Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DVD Views: Valkyrie

Valkyrie ** ½
Directed by: Bryan Singer.
Written By: Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander.
Starring: Tom Cruise (Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg), Kenneth Branagh (Major-General Henning von Tresckow), Bill Nighy (General Friedrich Olbricht), Tom Wilkinson (General Friedrich Fromm), Carice van Houten (Nina von Stauffenberg), Thomas Kretschmann (Major Otto Ernst Remer), Terence Stamp (Ludwig Beck), Eddie Izzard (General Erich Fellgiebel), Kevin McNally (Dr. Carl Goerdeler), Christian Berkel (Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim), Jamie Parker (Lieutenant Werner von Haeften), David Bamber (Adolf Hitler), Tom Hollander (Colonel Heinz Brandt), David Schofield (Erwin von Witzleben), Kenneth Cranham (Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel), Halina Reijn (Margarethe von Oven), Werner Daehn (Major Ernst John von Freyend), Harvey Friedman (Dr. Joseph Goebbels).

From the pre-release buzz, you’d be excused for thinking that Valkyrie would end up being on the year’s worst films. It isn’t. It is a well made, and for the most part, well acted conspiracy thriller. The problem with the movie is the writing. It never really takes off. This should be an almost unbearably intense film, but because not all the characters are well defined, you never really get caught up in their plight.

Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who was shipped off to Africa during the war for being openly critical of the Furher and the war in General. By 1944, he knows that the war is lost, and that in order to save Germany, the “good” Germans must band together to get rid of Hitler, otherwise, the world will think that all Germans were like him. When he is injured in Africa, and sent back to Germany, he discovers he is not alone. He is recruited by Major General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) and General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy) to join in an assassination plot against Hitler. The planning, and execution of this plan, make up the bulk of the film.

The outcome of the plot is known to everyone who walks into the film. Everyone knows that the plot to kill Hitler failed - after all it is generally accepted that Hitler killed himself as the Allies were moving into Berlin. And yet, that doesn’t mean the film isn’t suspenseful. Had we been made more to care about the characters in the film, we could have felt suspense in wondering what happened to them all. But that isn’t what happens here.

The performances are solid, if unspectacular. One of the problems is that most of the people in the film are British, and speak in their normal accents. Yet, Cruise, speaks in his normal American one. Obviously, to be historically accurate, everyone should be speaking German, but that would limit it’s box office appeal. But is it too much to ask that everyone speak in the same accent - no matter what that one maybe? It’s distracting, and takes you out of the movie. And yet, individually, there is quite a lot of good work being done.

Director Byran Singer has always been talented. But after breaking through with The Usual Suspects in 1995, he has never quite been able to match that level again. X2: X-Men Unite came close, but none of his films since then have been able to measure up. I think it’s because he has never had a screenplay that good again. Valkyrie should have been a much better film then it was. The screenplay lets down the director and the cast. Too bad.

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